Longevity vs Fame

A few days ago I was listening to Sam Jones interview Neil Patrick Harris. If you grew up in the '80s, you remember him as Doogie Howser. If you kept up with him, you might remember him as Barney from How I met your mother.

By the time he was old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes, he was famous. But he told Sam Jones that he was more interested in longevity than fame. Unlike most child stars, he's had a prolific career well into adulthood and managed to shed the identity of Doogie Howser.


Fame comes and goes. People become overnight internet sensations. Within a week they become an afterthought. When was the last time you heard about the success of Kris Cross or The Spin Doctors? I apologize for the dated pop culture reference for those of you who are millennials (see the video below).

You can't build a career in the arts by being a one-hit wonder. But with social media, young people concern themselves more with fame than longevity. The pursuit of fame for its own sake leads to unhealthy levels of self-obsession, envy, and comparison. Even worse, it keeps people from mastering their craft.

A few months ago I saw someone tweet that she was freaking out because JK Rowling liked her tweet. This is a perfect example of someone confusing attention with accomplishment. As harsh as this sounds, it doesn't matter if JK Rowling likes your tweet. There's nothing about it that increases the probability of success in your career. If JK Rowling liked your book, that would be a different story.

Fame is not a life plan. It's a byproduct of doing work that means something, touches someone's heart, and moves them in some way. Don't make a plan to be famous. Make a plan for mastery. This will serve you much better if you're serious about a long term career in the arts.

  • Famous actors showed up for 100's of auditions. They studied with coaches and took classes. We don't see the work, just its byproducts.
  • Famous writers spent years lingering obscurity. They made sacrifices.
  • Famous musicians practiced, took lessons, and spent thousands of hours rehearsing.

You might think it's incredible to be famous. But imagine what your life would be like if

  • Everywhere you went people took your picture without your permission.
  • You weren't able to eat a meal without someone always interrupting you.
  • Millions of people you don't even know troll you on the internet. Just watch mean celebrity tweets on Jimmy Kimmel.
  • People judged who you were by the version of you that you upload to social media.
  • You never know if someone likes you because of your status or they really care.

Then ask yourself if you really want that, all day every day.

In every episode of Armchair expert, Dax Shepard asks his guests "you're rich, famous and successful. Has it solved all the problems you thought it would?" Nobody has ever said yes. If fame solved all your problems, actors wouldn't end up as alcoholics and drug addicts.


On the flip side, there are actors and artist who aren't famous. But they've managed to work their entire careers. They have longevity.

Longevity doesn't come with the instant gratification of social media vanity metrics. It's a commitment to mastery, deep work and creating work that stands the test of time. It's a commitment to what Ryan Holiday calls a Perennial Seller.

Longevity is about building a career. Fame is about seeking attention. People who have successful careers in the arts focus on the latter.

Longevity might lead to fame. But if you're solely motivated by fame and you never become famous, you'll think it was all a waste. If my niece who is a freshman in high school becomes a talented piano player doesn't because famous, that's hardly a waste. She's developed a talent will have a positive impact on every other part of her life.

It's possible that your longevity will lead to fame. But if you pursue fame, you will likely be disappointed.

As I said in my latest book, The Scenic Route:

Here’s a harsh truth you probably don’t ever consider when you’re worrying about how you’re going to make more money or have sex with that hot girl or guy, or about how your start-up is going to succeed: When you’ve taken your final breath and you’re six feet under, nobody will give a fuck what was on your resume, how big your bank balance was, or how many people visited your website. Instead they’ll be giving your eulogy. What are they going to say? Measure your life accordingly.

Your tombstone is not your resume. I've never seen a graveyard where a person's accolades are listed on their tombstone.

Longevity is a walk down to the road to character. It's the path to a meaningful life. Longevity, not fame, is the secret to artistic fulfillment. I'll choose the infinite game of creativity or a moment in the spotlight any day. If you believe your life isn't worth living because you didn't become rich or famous, you've missed the point of being here.

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